New Albin High School included in new book reflecting on some of Iowa’s closed high schools

A new book by author James Kenyon of Cedar Falls released in early February features the former New Albin High School as part of its subject matter. Echoes in the Hallways: History and Recollections of 102 Closed Iowa High Schools is a collection of stories from student alumni of closed Iowa high schools, documenting 102 institutions from Iowa’s 99 counties.

In his multi-year research for the book, Kenyon consulted county historical records as well as interviewing former students and teachers, culminating in unique school profiles that include information ranging from the origin and growth of education in each county to sporting records, programs and school traditions. A native of Kansas, Kenyon actually published a similar book on closed high schools in Kansas in 2019, entitled Golden Rule Days: History and Recollections of 109 Closed Kansas High Schools.

Kenyon said his motivation for writing such books stems from the fact that he does not want the history of these schools that shaped his generation to be lost. “Beyond our generation, people are not likely to know the history of these schools, especially today’s youth,” he said. “I wanted to try and preserve their history as long as I possibly could.”

Although there were other high schools in Allamakee County that have also closed, Kenyon said New Albin High School was the first he came across in his research within Allamakee County, and his initial inquiry into furthering that research in the local community in May of 2019 was met with great excitement and interest. He said he initially tried to contact the library in New Albin but when he could not make contact with anyone there he tried the local bank and “struck paydirt,” as he says.

“I called the bank and asked if they knew of anyone who would know the history of the former high school in town, and they just happened to have someone associated with the bank that they directed me to - Ray Whalen,” Kenyon explained. “I was exceptionally pleased with Mr. Whalen’s knowledge and history of the school and community. He even talked about the free throw that he missed in a basketball game that would have sent his team to the State Tournament. Ironically, I think I also interviewed a guy from the opposing team that benefited from that missed free throw when researching his school.”

Kenyon said he would love to have been able to include the history of all closed high schools, but there was simply not enough time and resources to do so. “The book is nearly 600 pages as it is, I had to draw the line somewhere, but I wanted to include at least one school from every county,” he shared.

In addition to Whalen, Kenyon said he also interviewed Ralph Nelson and Earl and Delores Crowley, among others, for the New Albin portion of the book. In addition to reflections from these former students, Kenyon said his book also reflects on the communities that housed and supported these once thriving high schools, in addition to identifying any notable graduates or faculty members, with Kenyon specifically mentioning the local legend of Harris “Shooky” Fink.

“High schools have long made up the social fabric in communities across the state, especially in rural Iowa. By engaging with community members in the 102 schools cited in the book, Dr. Kenyon reveals the extreme pride people of Iowa have in their schools and communities. Echoes in the Hallways showcases how Iowans have built an extraordinary education system school by school. Because it is so well researched and written, once you pick it up, you’ll have a hard time putting it down,” said Dave Else, PHD, Professor Emeritus, University of Northern Iowa, in reviewing Kenyon’s book.

Kenyon was a veterinarian for 35 years in a mixed animal practice in Cedar Falls prior to his retirement, and he served for 24 years on the local school board. He is also the author of A Cow for College and Other Stories of 1950s Farm Life, which along with his book on Kansas high schools received commendation as Martin Kansas History Book Award winners.

Although he would love to be able to visit each community and offer a book signing or even an open house should local libraries be interested in the book, Kenyon said the current pandemic situation regrettingly does not allow for that sort of interaction at this point in time. The paperback publication can be ordered direct from the publisher, Meadowlark Books, P.O. Box 333, Emporia, KS 66801 or readers are invited to order online at meadowlark-books.square.site. Various bookstores are also slated to have the book available for sale.

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